Travel for an introvert can be a source of anxiety but it can also be extremely rewarding. For the past several years, I have ridden on a cross-country train from Cleveland all the way to San Francisco (and back) and have logged more than 17,500 miles on the rails. Because travel time is not an issue, I opt to travel via train. A plane will always get you there faster, but if you have the time and the patience, riding a train is an experience like no other.
For me, train travel is an almost meditative experience. The constant motion and ever-changing vistas allow me to think, reflect and dream—all things introverts love to do. Whether I’m listening to music with my eyes closed or watching the natural scenery move by, I enjoy the peaceful solitude that comes from being alone with my thoughts.
Train travel makes me feel insignificant and inspired at the same time. The natural beauty and gorgeous landscapes look different than they do from the sky or the highway. Vast stretches of the American West unfurl before me and tether me to my artistic spirit. However, crossing the desert with nothing but dunes and mountains for miles makes me feel like a tiny speck on a massive planet.
I believe that many introverts are blessed with a need to deeply connect with others—even strangers. On my last trip, I listened to the stories of some fellow passengers and became fascinated by their personal journeys. There was Estelle, for instance. She was an older African-American woman who lived in Sacramento and was going to visit her sister in Chicago. The two women had not seen each other in thirty years and were finally going to talk again at a family reunion. I almost wanted to join her and witness what was surely to be an emotional and joyous occasion.
And then there was Frank and Gina. The retired couple had a son in California who they had just visited after the birth of their first grandchild. Frank had been able to attend a baseball game with his son and grandson and he could not have been prouder. They showed me dozens of pictures on their phone while we ate a casual, late evening dinner.
But as an introvert, my favorite aspect of the trip is being able to do whatever I want, with or without company. On my first trip to California, I put those huge blocks of time to good use. I wrote the entire first draft of a novel, read several books, listened to music, napped, and gazed out the window. Train travel is perfect for introverts.
Why I Love Train Travel
- Hundreds of miles of glorious scenery can be inspirational. On one trip, I spent an entire afternoon writing songs as I gazed out the window. The train runs across the Great Plains, through the magnificent Rocky Mountains, across the vast deserts of Utah and Nevada and finally through the stunning Sierra Nevadas of Northern California.
- Reading and listening to music are two of my favorite hobbies. On a long train ride I can do both, sometimes at the same time. If you own a smartphone, all of the electronic books and music you could ever want are already in your pocket.
- This may seem counterintuitive for an introvert, but I love the fact that I can interact with others on my own terms. If you don’t feel like talking to strangers, you can use the old “hoodie and earbuds” trick to signal you don’t really feel like socializing.
What I Learned About Myself
- Even as an introvert, I do like meeting new people occasionally—but in small doses. Many people treat the train ride as if it’s a big, moving party. They talk over meals and meet up in the lounge car to do puzzles or play cards. The people you meet on the train always have fascinating stories, like those of Estelle, Frank, and Gina. It takes a certain kind of individual to cross North America by rail. I enjoy meeting some new people and it is good for me to force myself to talk to others. However, the train gives me the opportunity to do that in my own way and without making a commitment to a large group of strangers. It is like being at a party where you can retire to your bedroom and shut the door whenever you want.
- I enjoy the journey far more than the destination. I think this is why I dislike airline travel so much, as I always feel like a farm animal being pushed from one gate to another. Flying is all about getting there as quickly as possible and usually at the cost of comfort and your humanity. Road trips can be enjoyable but they become tedious and tiring, especially if you have nobody to help with the driving. Train travel feels more humane, relaxing, and less pressured.
I would highly recommend a long train ride at least once in your life. As a card-carrying introvert, I know how fun and rewarding it can be. In 2014, while on a train in the middle of the Nevada desert, I recorded some of my thoughts and created the first-ever (unofficial) “podcast on a train.” You can hear that and more at The Intronaut – A Podcast for Introverts (episode #23) where I discuss my experiences with train travel.